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Movies: Falling Down
Joel Schumacher’s 1993 film starring Robert Duvall and Michael Douglas
It’s easy to gloss over that this 1993 movie’s title derives from a children’s nursery rhyme. The rhyme’s a plain observation about a bridge in collapse. Falling Down is that simple, too. Somehow, this tale of structural erosion becomes a moving portrayal of America’s most marginalized, persecuted individual—the productive one—with sharp social commentary. This is possibly the late Joel Schumacher’s finest film.
The depiction of early Nineties Los Angeles is as eerily predictive as Atlas Shrugged. The movie, stalled in production by what at the time were America’s worst riots (LA in 1992), advertised as a tale of one man’s undoing—a U.S. defense engineer played by Michael Douglas in one of his better performances—Falling Down contrasts the Douglas character’s breakdown with the retirement of a cop portrayed by Robert Duvall. Both are outcasts. Both are older white men targeted and attacked, dismissed, belittled, humiliated and emasculated for being older white men. One responds by being a detective. The other responds by being defensive and going on the offense.
It’s a surprisingly layered LA story. For example, the Douglas character’s searching, basing his ultimate decisions upon evidence he observes firsthand about his past. This pivotal prelude grants Falling Down its sense of tragic deliverance, not the usual Hollywood notion that doom is destined, fated or inevitable.
Along the way, an angry black man (Vondie Curtis-Hall in a memorable cameo) and the angry white man have a brief encounter which underscores the film’s theme that the Invisible Man is everywhere around you—of every skin color, cultural and blood type—and that he’s wounded, wanting and worthy of attention, time and thought.
Douglas contends with his ex-wife (Barbara Hershey) as Duvall contends with his wife (Tuesday Weld) and both men are put in their places by those obeying conformist orthodoxy, whether machismo or the Nineties’ predominant multiculturalism, feminism and other collectivism that’s spread with accelerating speed since Falling Down came out. Director Schumacher taps the numbness—the eerie silence amidst the din—that comes with wobbling on the edge of knowing that you’re still capable of rising up … while knowing that it’s too late and you’re probably going down.